Creating a painting – Part 1

I’ve just started a new painting.

This isn’t anything new for me, I start paintings all the time, but it suddenly occurred to me that it might be interesting to document the process from the beginning. I’m sure there are things I do that others don’t and vice versa, so I thought I would share what I do. Feel free to share back any hints and tips you might have for creating a painting…I need to learn as much as anyone.

So, where to start?

At the beginning…


I recently sold a painting. This one…

The Letter
The Letter, acrylic on canvas, approx. 610 x 510mm.


This was my first adventure into traditional still life. I enjoyed creating this painting as it marked a whole pile of new things for me and I was happy with many aspects of it. You can find the details of the creation of this painting here. At the time I wanted to explore still life more, but as part of art class, I went on to paint another topic entirely, so my still life aspirations were left hanging.

Until now. Yesterday it sold and amid the excitement of this fact, and with other influences, I decided to start a new painting to use that inspiration I had stored up back when this one was finished.

So what is the key to this inspiration? The following factors are leading me onto create more of this kind of painting:

  • I’m traditionally a drawing artist and this kind of composition lets me simply draw from my stock shots.
  • I want to explore the creation of three-dimensional objects in paint – exploring light sources, colour and mood. There are several techniques in this that I really enjoyed and want to explore more.
  • This painting was more than a copy of a stockshot. I took the stock shot and moved the elements around trying to create focus and a solid composition. Each element that was moved had to be recreated when I painted it because the light, shadow and colour changes according to the elements around it. This was a welcome challenge as it forced me to calculate the aspects of each of the elements I moved – it is easy to copy, but if I ever want to create realistic fantasy art (I do), I need to know how to create convincing three-dimensional objects out of my own head and this requires me knowing the rules of the physical world – this is great practise.
  • I like adding a little twist to the concept of still life by adding something extra – in the above case it is the reflection in the mirror. The fruit and flowers are definitely the focus of the piece, but a second look brings up the woman and hopefully has the viewer asking questions and thinking about the painting more than just glancing at it.

So, what to paint?

  • I have some lemons. So I started from there.
  • I liked the idea of a bowl as in the painting above, so I found a bowl.
  • I want to keep the composition simple so only one bowl…slightly to the left.
  • All the lemons are yellow, so I threw in a tangelo (I didn’t have any oranges) to offset the yellow and create a focal point.
  • As a passing tribute to Margaret Olley (who was the focus of the above painting), I threw in a simple butter knife and a lone pear off to the right.
  • And I liked the idea of a dark painting with directional light – daylight being the best according to  this book – Light for visual artists: understanding & using light in art & design by Richard Yot. (Fantastic book! Highly recommended for a good and informative read.)
    light for visual artists
  • I wanted to add a hand coming out of the dark to add that mystery element.

So how did I create the composition?

It was morning and my living room has south facing windows (equal to north facing windows for those of you in the northern hemisphere) which give good even soft light. I also have venetian blinds so I was able to control the amount of light, and as the window is a wide one with several sets of venetian blinds I was also able to control the direction of the light by opening and closing blinds.

I found a little table so I could place my composition where I wanted to, draped it in some shiny satin and plomped my elements down.

To create a dark background, I flung some black cloth over the back of some chairs.

Then I started playing with lighting and my camera.

In an optimal artistic world I would be able to paint from real life, but I have a real life, with children, so I’m not going to even attempt it. This means I have to photograph. I have a groovy camera with all the wizbang bits, so set out to try and get as close to the effect I wanted.

This proved a challenge. I wanted it dark and moody, but my wizbang camera can grab light out of the darkest situations and my photography knowledge is limited to composition. I had to darken the room right down and cut out light sources. And work out angles. I fiddled for a while and came up with this:

Still life stockshot

It is a touch dark, but I can work with it as it has enough information for me to work with and then expand, lightening up where I want and darking elsewhere.

Now I need to add my mystery element.

I like the idea of something happening that isn’t quite obvious, that asks questions, that leaves the viewer wondering what might be going on…in this case I planned to add a hand reaching for the knife.

When I was initially adding the elements and going through my cutlery drawer, I thought of adding a sharp knife. but that is too obvious, too violent, too everything, so there is a butter knife…that could be equally violent if necessary, but isn’t obviously so.

So after fiddling around with the camera, scouring the net for a photo, then giving up and fiddling with the camera some more, I came up with this:

hand elementYes, that is my hand 😀

A little bit of work with Corel and this happened:

still life with hand

This is simply data to give me the direction to create a painting. It is not supposed to be a finished piece or technically perfect (except for light direction, I find that very important).

So here is my composition and now I’m ready to start painting.

Let’s see where it leads.

Best wishes,